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Guidelines for Consideration of Mitigating Circumstances in Death Penalty Referred to Constitution Bench by SC

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Priyanka Singh

Published on: September 19, 2022 at 21:18 IST

The issue of guidelines defining how and when mitigating circumstances are to be considered during trials in death penalty cases has been now referred to the Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court.

On Monday, Chief Justice of India U.U Lalit and Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia observed that,

“This Court is of the opinion that to have clarity on the matter to grant real and meaningful hearing to accused in such case, this reference to larger bench of five judges is needed. Let the matter be placed before the CJI for orders in this regard.”

The suo motu case by the Supreme Court was being heard to examine how trial courts can analyze comprehensively in cases including death penalty. The analysis would decide the imposition of death penalty depending on the crime, the accused, and the mitigating circumstances.

The case was registered in the Court in April while hearing a petition by one Irfan Bhayu Mevati challenging the death penalty imposed by the trial court and confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh HC.

The case highlighted facts including that the analyzed report of the profile, by the probation officer, of the accused is not considered completely and, is abundantly dependent on the interviews taking place at the near end of the trial.

The Court, therefore, observed that if someone, apart from the probation officer, from the defense is given the opportunity to interview the accused at the commencement of the trial, then a comprehensive analysis can be showcased given the matter is being seen from the point of view of a death sentence.

The Court had converted an application (by Project 39A of National Law University, Delhi) into a writ petition, also issuing notice to Attorney General K. K. Venugopal and the Member Secretary of the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

The Court has appointed Senior Advocate Siddhartha Dave with the assistance of K Parameshwar as amicus curiae in the issue.

Justice Lalit had remarked previously that, “We will have to see in such cases the consideration of mitigating circumstances has to be only after conviction or during trial as per judgments.”

“Matters might have to be deferred so that sentencing can be given its due time. Where do we fit in that stage? In the fitness of things, I think it should be after all prosecution evidence is done being presented. Or we will have to send this to a larger Bench.”